Statement of Senator Jim Jeffords
Hearing on the Department of Homeland Security
July 10, 2002
We have come a long way since September 11th. We have fought terrorism all over the globe, created and funded a new government agency, and seen an outpouring of patriotism and resolve among Americans everywhere. We have taken great strides to protect ourselves from future terrorist threats, and we have come to realize that the Federal government can do even more by reorienting its counter-terrorism efforts.
I strongly believe that preventing future terrorist attacks is a critical responsibility of the Federal government. That is why I support the idea of creating a new Homeland Security Department. But there are many unanswered questions about the President's proposal that I hope to explore here today. Chief among these is the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the new department.
The events of September 11th proved that FEMA, with its primary focus on natural disasters, can respond to acts of terrorism. But the fact still remains that FEMA spends the great majority of its time and resources preparing for and responding to natural disasters, and I am deeply concerned about how this move will affect FEMA's responsibilities in areas unrelated to terrorism.
To protect this focus, I believe FEMA, similar to the Coast Guard and some other included agencies, should be a distinct entity within the department, with the Agency's Director answering directly to the President in times of disaster.
I am not advocating that FEMA not be a part of the new department. But I am advocating that FEMA remain a distinct entity within the department to help preserve its focus and mission.
My concerns are not unfounded. Throughout the 1980s, FEMA focused mainly on Cold War civil defense preparedness. This focus left the Agency ill-prepared to respond to several large natural disasters during the late 1980s and early 1990s. I still remember some of my Senate colleagues calling for the abolishment of the Agency during that time.
Over the last decade, FEMA has refocused its mission on mitigating the effects of, preparing for and responding to natural disasters. By doing so, the Agency has vastly improved its ability to coordinate Federal response and recovery efforts.
Since FEMA's inception in 1979, and through the Agency's successes and failures, this Committee has worked closely with FEMA to help the Agency respond to fires, floods and hurricanes.
Today, we know that our world has changed and FEMA's responsibilities have changed as well. I support all efforts to ensure that we are prepared to prevent and to respond to terrorist acts. However, I remain committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that FEMA is equally capable and prepared to respond to natural disasters once the Agency is included in the new Homeland Security Department.